February 11, 2014

How we changed a life

The Disease Called Cruising

11. Happy Circumnavigation

FOR SOME MONTHS we drifted gently from island to island, wafted by the trade wind, buddy-sailing with a 38-foot ketch called Evensong. She was six months into a leisurely circumnavigation with two middle-aged couples aboard.

It was quickly apparent to us that there was a class distinction among the men on Evensong. Alan was a bricklayer. Bernard was a research engineer. So it was always Alan who went up the mast, changed the engine oil, and dived to scrape the propeller. It was Bernard who told him to do these things because he was the captain. And he was the captain for one reason — he could navigate.

This was in the days before GPS, of course, and Alan was convinced he could never master celestial navigation. “I never learned geometry and trigonometry, never mind algebra and calculus,” he told us, shaking his head in dismay.

“Algebra?” I said. “Trigonometry?”

“Yes. Bernard does it all on an engineer’s calculator, but I wouldn’t know where to start. He says it took him years to learn. And he has a doctorate in engineering.”

June and I were sitting with Alan under a large shade umbrella on a deserted beach, watching the tide trying to suck our inflatable off the powdery sand. I liked Alan. He was always cheerful and ready to help you re-set your anchor or run out a warp for you. He was a good man to have by your side at sea.

I wasn’t so fond of Bernard. In the first place, he was a bore, a garrulous bore. An egotistical garrulous bore, as a matter of fact. But worse, he was a manipulator. He need to be taken down a peg or two.

It was December, approaching Christmas down there, south of the equator, and I thought I saw a way to kill two birds with one stone.

Next time I saw him I told him I had a little present for him. He looked embarrassed. “Oh, I wasn’t expecting . . .”

“It’s no big deal,” I said. “In fact it’s just one little sheet of paper. But it could change your life.”

He came aboard on his way back to Evensong, and I passed over a copy of the “idiot sheet” I used for celestial navigation. “Just fill in the blanks,” I said. “Ten or 12 easy additions or subtractions. No algebra. No calculus.”

“Is that all? Truly?”

“Truly. It’s all you need for sun sights. Most cruisers start out with a form like this. After a while you don’t even need it. You just write it all down from habit.”

You could see a little lopsided smile of enlightenment starting deep down inside Alan’s brain and spreading slowly to his face. He nodded his head and tapped one big bare toe slowly on our teak-and-holly.

“Happy Christmas,” said June.

A week later we saw Bernard clinging grimly to the bosun’s chair, going up the mainmast for the first time. He looked very nervous.

Alan, who was winching him, grinned and stopped to wave as we motored past.

“Happy circumnavigation,” I said.

“You bet,” said Alan, winking and giving us the thumbs-up.

Today’s Thought

This world has been harsh and strange;

Something is wrong; there needeth a change.

— Robert Browning, Holy-Cross Day


There was an old lady of Worcester

Who was often annoyed by a rorcester.

She cut off his head

Until he was dead,

And now he don’t crow like he yorcester.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Anonymous said...

It all seems like black magic to me and I assume many others. You don't have a copy of that sheet, per chance, to share with your loyal blog followers?

John Vigor said...

Dear Anon:

There's a facsimile of it in my book, The Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat.


John V.

Jack said...

I like your style John! Oh, and if this helps, click on the linky.....